All posts by Richard L. Smith

A Timothy Keller Tribute


A friend of mine, a pastor of many years, decided to leave his church because of ecclesiological pragmatism that stifled spiritual growth. He saw that “success” in the evangelical church merely required four aspects: a concert-feel worship service, simple practical how-to preaching on popular topics using humor with a non-confrontational challenge, a fun-clean-safe children’s ministry, and a similar teen meeting concurrent with the adult service.

Compare this depiction of Tim Keller’s preaching and church services:

Unlike many suburban megachurches, with their soft-rock praise bands and user-friendly sermons, Redeemer’s services were almost defiantly staid, featuring traditional hymns and liturgy. But the sermons were wry and erudite, filled with literary allusions and philosophical references, and Keller was shrewd about urging his congregants to examine their “counterfeit gods”—their pursuit of totems like power, status, and wealth, which the city encouraged. (Michael Luo)

Similarly, Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York wrote this about Keller,

The usual canard about Evangelicals—that they were anti-intellectual—did not apply to Pastor Keller. Thus his fascination with Augustine, with C. S. Lewis—whom his dear wife Kathy especially promoted—and Joseph Ratzinger. Thus his 2008 best seller, The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism.

Keller possessed an insatiable intellectual curiosity. He was a broad and voracious reader. He was an astute observer of human relations. He embodied mental piety and intellectual acuity. For this reason, his sermons and lectures were compelling and transformative.

Keller was not a homiletical pragmatist. His teaching was a great example of what many evangelical churches lack. He avoided the false dichotomy between theology and ethics or thinking and doing. He expressed theological and biblical reasoning. He did not merely preach rules or activity.

Last year, Keller published a vision statement about the future evangelical church called, “The Decline and the Renewal of the American Church.” In the last section, he described the “Christian Mind” Project, and he commented, “Evangelicalism has a strong anti-intellectual cast to it that must be overcome without losing its appeal to the majority of the population.” Keller called for increasing the number of Christian professors in the university, developing a “robust intellectual culture” for Protestants, and fostering the development of “Christian public intellectuals” as spokespersons for the biblical worldview and the common good.

Which is to say, Timothy Keller modeled how to love God with the mind in everything he said and did. He demonstrated intellectual piety in all his discourse. He communicated the gospel in ways that were intellectually plausible and existentially credible.

Thank God for his servant, Timothy Keller.

A Passionate Plea On Behalf Of Christian Scholarship – Guest Blog

Note: This statement first appeared in Facebook.  Dr. Campbell granted permission to republish it as a guest blog. Keith is a friend and Vice-President at Global Scholars, the ministry with which I serve. His comments deals with an anti-intellectual outlook encountered among evangelicals.)

URGENT PLEA! I recently had a conversation with a well meaning brother in Christ (I’ll call him “Joel”), a conversation that I’ve had at least a hundred times over the years. Joel-–– firmly, confidently and quite condescendingly––said to me that biblical scholars are worthless and a waste of time. All they do, he said, is sit around and discuss worthless things and confuse the “common Christian” (his words, not mine). They should spend their time doing more important things for the Kingdom.

Okay, I understand. Just like in any profession, there are those who don’t contribute much. Fair point. But, hear me well…very well: Joel, and 99% of Earth’s population, cannot read one word––NOT ONE SINGLE WORD––of the Bible without depending on scholars!

Seriously. Take the New Testament, for example. Your New Testament was transcribed from thousands of ancient parchments by scholars, and then translated from Greek into English by other scholars. This is no easy task. It takes a lifetime for one scholar to be able do this for usually just one book of the Bible. And, these scholars stand on the shoulders of literally tens of thousands of other scholars before them. Unless you can read Koine Greek in the original parchments of the first several centuries of the first millennium (or ancient Hebrew), you cannot read your Bibles without the help of scholars (including the Kings James Version and even modern Greek versions).

Besides being unable to read one single word of the Bible without the help of scholars, almost everything your Sunday School teacher and pastor mention on Sunday mornings (aside from most illustrations) comes either directly or indirectly from hundreds of thousands of scholars, throughout thousands of years, who spent lifetimes thinking, debating, and writing so that others can say these kinds of things in just a few simple, easy seconds, such as: (1) “There are four Greek words for the word ‘love’ in the New Testament….”; (2) “In the Roman world, crucifixion was considered the most humiliating ways to die.”; (3) “What this biblical word means is…”; and the list goes on and on and on and on and on!

So, here’s my plea. Please don’t dishonor good, Christian, Jesus- and Bible-loving scholars. In fact, thank them! Your ability to simply read the Bible depends on them.


The Lord Jesus told us something very intriguing about missions:

“Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves” (Matt 10:16).

The broader context of this saying concerns Jesus’ commission of the twelve disciples, his future apostolic leaders (9:35–11:1). In 10:17–25, he explained in detail the kinds of obstacles and persecutions that they would likely encounter. In verses 34–39, Jesus declared openly what he intended, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.”

This saying utilizes an indicative–imperative rationale, which helps us understand its logic:

Indicative Fact
“I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves”

Logical/Moral Inference

Imperative Obligation
“be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.”

Due to their mission context (“wolves”), they must “become” (imperative) both “wise” and “innocent.” Their mission required both intellectual and character development. To survive and prosper in their hostile mission setting, both purity and discernment, as well as situational awareness, were required competencies.

A preliminary reading reveals, therefore, that Jesus sent his emissaries on a suicide mission. “Sheep” and “doves” were very vulnerable in a “wolfish” context. Interestingly, he did not instruct the disciples to assume an even more “wolfish” mentality to survive or succeed. He did not urge them to go with wisdom only but not innocence or with innocence only but not wisdom.

The twin commands (mental and character) and often-hostile contexts are generally true for all missionaries. They are particularly relevant for Christian intellectuals laboring in the university setting.

Think about Jesus’ commission, “I am sending you.” Academic missionaries are just as “sent” as any other kind of minister. Missional Christian intellectuals are just as called as other missionaries. Dedication to the life of the mind and teaching is a holy and critical vocation.

“Sheep” are named many times in the Bible and the term “flock” is often applied to God’s people. Sheep were deemed clueless and helpless. They were especially vulnerable to predators. They depended entirely upon their shepherds for protection and provision. This vivid image reminds us that even thinkers are hapless and weak in their mission environment―the often-intimidating university setting. We depend totally upon our Shepherd too.

The word “wolves” dramatically depicts the mission context. Wolves were deeply feared and despised, for they were cunning and aggressive. They operated in well-coordinated groups. They threatened the livelihood of farmyard animals, as well as the lives of shepherds. Metaphorically, idea factories, like universities, often foster wolf-like behavior. Academic missionaries must take care and prepare.

“So,” Jesus tells us, we need wisdom. To be “wise” (phronimos) is discernment that evaluates a situation and determines how best to respond. For instance, the “wise” person built his house on the rock (Matt 7:24), the “wise” virgin kept her lamp ready (25:2), and the “shrewd” servant knew how to secure his economic well-being (Luke 16:8). An Old Testament analogy is the Sons of Issachar, “men who had understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do” (1 Chron 12:32). Snakes, by the way, were often admired for being wily and avoiding trouble. But they did attack, when necessary.

Professors also need holiness―in thought and behavior. The dove was associated with harmlessness and purity. They manifested traits diametrically opposite of wolves. In an analogous manner, Christian professors should develop mental piety and Christ-like demeanor within settings often fraught with opposition, obfuscation, and temptation.

Again, Jesus expressed four essential truths for academic missionaries: it is a holy calling, it serves in a dangerous context, it requires developed character and sharpened perception.






“I Would Like to Rise Very High” – Michal Quoist

I would like to rise very high, Lord, above my city, above the world,
above time. I would like to purify my gaze, and borrow your eyes.
I would then see the universe, humanity and history, as the Father sees them . . . .
And I would see that today, like yesterday, the most minute details are part of it,
every person has his place, every group, every object . . . .
Startled, I will begin to understand that the great adventure of Love,
that started at the creation of the world, continues to unfold before
my eyes.
The divine story which, according to your promise, will be completed in glory,
only after the resurrection of the flesh, when you will come before the Father saying:
All is accomplished. I am the Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End . . . .
Then, falling on my knees, I would admire, O Lord, the great mystery
of this world, your world, which in spite of the innumerable snags of
sin, remains a long throb of love, leading towards Love and Life eternal.
I would like to rise very high, Lord, above my city, above the world,
above time.
I would like to purify my gaze, and borrow your eyes.


The first man Adam grew in knowledge by studying God’s handiwork and following his instructions. In fact, Eden was a laboratory of sorts, a workspace where Adam could develop his intellectual abilities and get to know God better, even as he honed his skills as divine steward.

Most likely, however, Adam’s journey to self-awareness, understanding of his environment, and knowledge of his Creator and commission required some time. It is doubtful that his mind functioned instantly at full capacity like that of Trinity in the film The Matrix. She simply popped into consciousness fully aware of herself and the setting, and then accessed complete knowledge of whatever kind downloaded directly to her brain. No, a scenario of immediate and comprehensive understanding is not likely in Adam’s case. At least it is not obvious. Indeed, it is plausible that the learned much about himself and the world by means of observation and inference.

In fact, it seems Adam had to learn. He had to first develop his cognitive capacities. Most likely, after Adam took his first breath and opened his eyes, he did not jump to his feet (assuming he was lying down), and exclaim, “Where am I? What is happening? Who is in charge here?” Indeed, he might not have possessed the capacity to use language at all. He probably did not yet possess a developed sense of self or situational awareness.

How, then, did Adam learn about himself as a sentient being? What and how did he learn about his environment as creation? What did Adam surmise about God and how? How did Adam become God’s apprentice king, architect, economist, and philosopher of the garden?

John Amos Comenius

A partial answer to these questions relates to the kind of world that God created. He made a SMART world designed for thinking. It was measurable, manageable, and malleable. Further, Adam was situated within a web of meaning conditioned by Yahweh Elohim. Adam’s calling and stewardship determined the content, method, and motive of Adam’s thought. Everything about his environment was necessarily God-centered. Everything about the world pointed to the Creator, like a magnet points north. As John Amos Comenius stated long ago, “As the whole world is a school for the human race . . . so every individual’s lifetime is a school from the cradle to the grave.”

Now, think about your life and your environment―its social, cultural, psychological, and physical dimensions.

The scriptures tell us that the world is a workspace where we can develop our intellectual abilities and get to know God better, even as we develop skills as stewards of God’s creation.

How have you experienced God as your divine teacher? Listen to Psalm 19 as it describes two spheres of God’s instruction―the world and the word.

The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge.

The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple; the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes; the fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever; the rules of the Lord are true, and righteous altogether.

Cleary, the benefit from divine pedagogy is mental piety. Learning from God, fosters self-awareness and Godly fear, which is the root of knowledge (Prov 1:7):

Who can discern his errors? Declare me innocent from hidden faults. Keep back your servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me! Then I shall be blameless, and innocent of great transgression.

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.




“Student Prayer” – John Calvin

O Lord, who are the fountain of all wisdom and learning,
since thou of thy special goodness has granted that my youth is instructed in good arts which may assist me to honest and holy living,
grant also, by enlightening my mind, which otherwise labors under blindness, that I may be fit to acquire knowledge . . . in whatever kind of study I engage,
enable me to remember to keep its proper end in view, namely,
to know thee in Christ Jesus thy Son, and may everything that I learn
assist me to observe the right rule of godliness . . . .
I entreat that thou wouldst be pleased to turn me
to true humility, that thus I may show myself teachable and obedient
first to thyself, and then to those also who by thy authority are placed over me.
Be pleased at the same time to root out all vicious desires from my heart,
and inspire it with an earnest desire of seeking thee.
Finally, let the only end at which I aim be so to qualify myself in early life,
that when I grow up, I may serve thee in whatever station thou mayest assign me.

Engaging Unbelief

An urgent need exists for worldview analysis and a wholistic apologetic to address unbelief and its socio-cultural effects through our teaching, research, and administration. As missional Christian academics, we should earnestly strive to love God with our minds, but we also urge others to do the same. Likewise, we must engage with those who challenge the biblical worldview with all of our heart, mind, and strength. What follows is a summary of biblical teaching to guide our understanding on the meaning and practice of apologetics as we engage unbelief.

First, Christian hope and perseverance often provoke curiosity in the face of persecution and injustice. 1 Peter 3:15–16, the classic text about apologetics, commands believers to be ever ready to ‘make a defense’ of their faith in Christ, despite suffering, ‘to anyone who asks’. Peter shows how apologetics confronts the enigma of personal suffering. He teaches that piety and ethics are intimately linked to the motivation for and practice of apologetics. We must “honor Christ the Lord as holy” in our innermost being, possess a ‘good conscience’, and demonstrate ‘good behavior’. Apologetics should operate with ‘gentleness and respect’, no matter what argument we use or with whomever we engage.

Second, the Greek term for apologetics, apologia, means literally ‘to talk oneself off a charge’ or ‘to defend oneself’. In most instances, the term refers to a Christian’s response to legal prosecution, religious persecution, accusation, or inquiry. The New Testament provides examples from various litigious settings before Jews, Christians, and Gentiles. Part of apologetics is defending our faith by providing answers or responding to criticisms and accusations raised by opponents from within the ‘logic’ of the Gospel. We seek to demonstrate the intellectual and existential justification of our faith, as well as to correct misunderstandings about the meaning and message of Christianity.

Third, there are two important uses of the term, anapologia, ‘without an excuse’, that refer to mankind’s self-apologetic before God and his covenant lawsuit against unrighteous mankind (Rom 1:20, 2:1; similar term in 3:9). Human beings often put God on trial and assign to him culpability for malfunction and misfortune on earth, and then demand of God an apologetic. Part of apologetics, then, is ‘turning the tables’ and demonstrating that human beings are literally ‘without a defense’ in God’s courtroom.

Fourth, the concept and practice of apologetics is iconoclastic. This is evidenced by Paul’s vocabulary against unbelievers and opponents in Acts (especially in Acts 14:8-14 and 17:16–32). Like Paul, the Bible often critiques other worldviews and religions, such as, Babylonian creation myths, Egyptian theocracy, Babylonian imperialistic ideology, pagan wisdom, and Roman Pax Romana. Furthermore, since Christ is the Lord of all that exists, every sphere of life, goal, motivation, paradigm, academic discipline, ideology, and system must be evaluated in light of Christ as revealed in scripture. Part of apologetics, then, is the internal critique of worldviews and personal unbelief to demonstrate its intellectual and existential implausibility.

Apologetics affirms the Lordship of Christ over the mind, the purpose of revelation, the impact of sin upon thinking, and the essential role of worldview, religion, and culture in establishing the plausibility of beliefs. Apologetics recognizes, further, that people are not simply ‘blank slates’ written upon with effective arguments or the biblical worldview. Rather, we are all situated within a worldview web of preconceived ideas and cultural expectations. This is why apologetics is diagnostic. It asks: How do the listeners process the information and arguments presented to them? How do others, who see reality through their worldview, respond to our worldview? Apologetics listens first to questions and context before it speaks or provides answers.

Lastly, apologetics recognizes that disputations occur within the context of relationships with others, seeking first to understand before being understood. Apologists should imitate great apologists of Christian faith like Justin Martyr, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, Aquinas, Anselm, Blaise Pascal, C. S. Lewis, Elizabeth Anscombe, Cornelius Van Til, and Francis Schaeffer, who modelled ‘intellectual hospitality’ with those who differed with them. As such, apologetics embraces a humble and gentle disposition, even as it passionately argues for and holds firmly to the truth, goodness, and beauty of the triune God as attested to in Scripture.

“Prayer before Study” – Thomas Aquinas

Creator of all things,
true Source of light and wisdom,
lofty origin of all being,
graciously let a ray of Your brilliance
penetrate into the darkness of my understanding
and take from me the double darkness
in which I have been born,
an obscurity of both sin and ignorance.
Give me a sharp sense of understanding,
a retentive memory,
and the ability to grasp things correctly and fundamentally.
Grant me the talent of being exact in my explanations,
and the ability to express myself with thoroughness and charm.
Point out the beginning,
direct the progress,
and help in completion;
through Christ our Lord.

Are We Stupid Christians?

A stupid Christian is someone who does not really know what they believe or why and cannot explain their beliefs to non-believers. An ignorant Christian is a contradiction in terms, according to the Bible. Below, I offer three observations about this issue.

First, saving faith in Jesus Christ requires knowledge of certain facts, such as, who he is and why we should trust in him. Romans 10:9 says, “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” This simple proclamation of the gospel assumes that we understand at least these concepts: what confession means, who Jesus is, what being the Lord is all about, what belief is, what “in your heart” signifies, the importance of resurrection, what salvation is, and why we need it.

Second, human beings are created in the image of God, meaning we are thinkers. We can learn. We possess intellectual curiosity. But consider this dichotomy. Typically, many of us invest many years, and sometimes a lot of money, to get a university degree. Why do we invest such time and money? So that we can qualify for a job that earns a higher salary, which buys a better lifestyle. That’s fine, as far as it goes, but it is more than a little ironic. Why is it wise to obtain a university degree to succeed in this world, but it is acceptable for Christians to be ignorant? To put it another way, we seek university education to prosper in this life, but we do not often seek even a primary school education for biblical-theological knowledge that is profitable in both this world and the next.

Third, the Bible teaches that part of worship involves the development of our minds. Jesus said in Mark 12:30, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” Clearly, a primary use of our intellectual ability is knowing God’s revelation. We should know in whom we believe and why. We should understand our key doctrines. We should discern good and evil, and wisdom and folly. In fact, a key part of spiritual maturity is growing in the knowledge and wisdom of God (2 Tim 2:15; Titus 1:9; Heb 5:11–6:2; 1 Pet 3:15).

Consider these diagnostic questions:

Are you growing mentally as a believer or are you still a toddler?
Where do you get information and is it reliable?
Who tells you how to spend money and invest your time?
Who tells you how to flourish as a human being?
What ideas and worldviews define your identity and purpose in life?
Who are your role models? Why?
What, in your opinion, is worth living and dying for?
Are you susceptible to conspiracy theories?
Do you read thoughtful material, or do you mostly watch TV, look at your phone or You Tube?

Finally, the lesson here for you and me is simple. We are stewards of our intellect, and we must learn to love God with our mind. God will use whatever intellectual ability and knowledge we have. He is not asking us to become intellectual giants or earn advanced degrees. But he demands that we develop our individual potential―and use it. The only real qualification is our availability and self-discipline to learn.

“Arousal of the Mind for Contemplating God” – Anselm

Come now, insignificant man, leave behind for a time your preoccupations; seclude yourself for a while from your disquieting thoughts. Turn aside now from heavy cares, and set aside your wearisome tasks. Make time for God, and rest a while in Him. Enter into the inner chamber of your mind; shut out everything except God and what is of aid to you in seeking Him; after closing the chamber door, seek Him out. Speak now, my whole heart; speak now to God:

I seek Your countenance; Your countenance, 0 Lord, do I seek. So come now, Lord my God, teach my heart where and how to seek You, where and how to find You. If You are not here, 0 Lord, where shall I seek You who are absent? But if You are everywhere, why do I not behold You as present? But surely You dwell in light inaccessible. Yet, where is light inaccessible? Or how shall I approach unto light inaccessible? Or who will lead me to and into this [light] so that in it I may behold You? Furthermore, by what signs, by what facial appearance shall I seek You? Never have I seen You, 0 Lord my God; I am not acquainted with Your face. What shall this Your distant exile do? What shall he do, 0 most exalted Lord? What shall Your servant do, anguished out of love for You and cast far away from Your face? He pants to see You, but Your face is too far removed from him. He desires to approach You, but Your dwelling place is inaccessible. He desires to find You but does not know Your abode. He longs to seek You but does not know Your countenance. 0 Lord, You are my God, and You are my Lord; yet, never have I seen You. You have created me and created me anew and have bestowed upon me whatever goods I have; but I am not yet acquainted with You. Indeed, I was made for seeing You; but not yet have I done that for which I was made.

0 the unhappy fate of man when he lost that [end] for which he was made! 0 that hard and ominous fall! Alas, what he lost and what he found, what vanished and what remained! He lost the happiness for which he was made and found an unhappiness for which he was not made. That without which nothing is happy vanished, and there remained what through itself is only unhappy. Man then ate the bread-of-angels for which he now hungers; and now he eats the bread-of-sorrows, which then he did not know. Alas, the common mourning of men, the universal lament of the sons of Adam! Adam burped with satiety; we sigh with hunger. He abounded; we go begging. He happily possessed and unhappily deserted; we unhappily lack and unhappily desire, while, alas, remaining empty. Why did he not, when easily able, keep for us that of which we were so gravely deprived? Why did he block off from us the light and enshroud us in darkness? Why did he take away from us life and inflict death? Wretched [creatures that we are], expelled from that home, impelled to this one!, cast down from that abode, sunken to this one! [We have been banished] from our homeland into exile, from the vision of God into our own blindness, from the delight of immortality into the bitterness and horror of death. 0 miserable transformation from such great good into such great evil! What a grievous loss, a heavy sorrow, an unmitigated plight! But, alas, unhappy me, one of the other unhappy sons of Eve who are far removed from God: what did I set out to do?, what have I achieved? For what was I striving?, where have I arrived?

To what was I aspiring?, for what do I sigh? I sought after good things and, behold, [here is] turmoil. I was striving unto God but collided with myself. I was seeking rest in my inner recesses but found tribulation and grief in my inmost being. I wanted to laugh from joy of mind but am constrained to cry out from groaning of heart. I hoped for gladness, but, lo, as a result, my sighs increase!

0 Lord, how long? How long, 0 Lord, will You forget us? How long will You turn away Your face from us? When will You look upon us and hear us? When will You enlighten our eyes and show us Your face? When will You restore Yourself to us? Look upon us, 0 Lord; hear us, enlighten us, reveal Yourself unto us. Restore unto us Yourself—without whom we fare so badly—so that we may fare well. Have compassion upon the efforts and attempts which we, who can do nothing without You, direct toward You. [As] You summon us, [so] aid us, I beseech [You], 0 Lord, that I may not despair with sighing but may revive in hoping.

I beseech You, 0 Lord: my heart is made bitter by its own desolation; sweeten it by Your consolation. I beseech You, 0 Lord, that having begun in hunger to seek You, I may not finish without partaking of You. I set out famished; let me not return still unfed. I came as one who is poor to one who is rich, as one who is unhappy to one who is merciful; let me not return empty and spurned. And if before I eat I sigh, grant at least after the sighs that which I may eat. 0 Lord, bent over [as I am] I can look only downwards; straighten me so that I can look upwards. Having mounted above my head, my iniquities cover me over; and as a heavy burden they weigh me down. Deliver me [from them]; unburden me, so that the abyss of iniquities does not engulf me. Permit me, at least from afar or from the deep, to look upwards toward Your light. Teach me to seek You, and reveal Yourself to me as I seek; for unless You teach [me] I cannot seek You, and unless You reveal Yourself I cannot find You. Let me seek You in desiring You; let me desire You in seeking You. Let me find [You] in loving [You]; let me love [You] in finding [You].

0 Lord, I acknowledge and give thanks that You created in me. Your image so that I may remember, contemplate, and love You. But [this image] has been so effaced by the abrasion of transgressions, so hidden from sight by the dark billows of sins, that unless You renew and refashion it, it cannot do what it was created to do. 0 Lord, I do not attempt to gain access to Your loftiness, because I do not at all consider my intellect to be equal to this [task]. But I yearn to understand some measure of Your truth, which my heart believes and loves. For I do not seek to understand in order to believe, but I believe in order to understand. For I believe even this: that unless I believe, I shall not understand.